I remember the thrill of getting my first apartment. I was so ready to be out on my own and wasted absolutely no time in finding my new place, and it was completely great; it was cheap, there were relatively few rats, and it even had a toilet inside. The only problem was that it was located in a seriously sketchy part of town. Even though I was totally ready to have multiple pants-free afternoon yoga sessions and a refrigerator full of food that I never had to label, what I wasn’t ready for was the number of times that I would ultimately feel unsafe. It truly never crossed my mind that some of the shadier characters in town would single me out because I was a woman living alone. Some things that had seemed innocuous at first quickly became bigger problems: the broken deadbolt that I was too shy to ask my landlord to replace suddenly became pretty urgent once some drunken frat-tastical creeper let himself in because he’d seen me walk home alone from work and “just wanted to talk to me”.
I hate the idea of living in fear, so I didn’t. Once I started trying to figure out ways to protect myself, I started to realize that while most violent crimes against women are perpetrated by someone that they know, there are risks associated with living solo, too. For instance, according to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 6 women will be stalked in their lifetime. Your chances of being victimized also increase dramatically if you have some kind of disability, according to a similar survey done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
It’s important for single women living alone to protect themselves, and it’s actually pretty simple to do just that.
- Lock your door. I’ll admit that at the end of a long day, my laziness knows no bounds and I will sometimes forego locking the door in order to ensure that my butt hits the couch in the least amount of time possible. This is a no-no, according to Aidan J. Cassidy, a former law enforcement officer with over 20 years of experience: “Always lock your door. I know this seems like a no brainer, but many women don’t feel the need to lock up at night if they live in a safe neighborhood. Crime happens everywhere.” Of course, locking your door won’t do too much good if you don’t actually close it. Cassidy adds: “Make sure that when you are entering your apartment building, that the door closes completely behind you. Sometimes, an intruder can sneak in behind you if you aren’t paying attention.” So do a double check: closed and locked, as soon as you’re in your home.
- Mind your curtains. My first curtains were almost as big a milestone as my first apartment. You can judge me if you want, but something about buying them made me feel like an actual adult. Besides being important to decor, they can help keep you safe. Aidan J. Cassidy says, “Use your curtains. Many intruders monitor the movement of their victims before they strike. Make that impossible by keeping your curtains drawn.”
- Watch the seasons. There’s such a thing as “seasonal crime patterns”. No, seriously. According to the BJS:
- Aggravated assault rates were higher during the summer than during the winter, spring, and fall. In comparison, simple assault rates were higher during the fall than during other seasons of the year.
- Robbery rates did not exhibit seasonal variations.
- Rape and sexual assault victimization rates tended to be higher during the summer than during the fall and winter.
- Rates of intimate partner violence were higher during the summer than during the winter, spring, and fall.
- Arm yourself. No one’s saying you need a shotgun or butterfly knife – although if that’s your thing, go for it – but it’s never a bad idea to have a weapon on hand. Says Aidan J. Cassidy: “Carry a weapon. Even something as simple as having a can of mace in your purse offers some degree of protection.” Figure out what kind of weapon you’d be comfortable wielding, and then learn how to wield it.
- Keep a dog. Dogs offer a lot of benefits, like being great cuddle buddies and cleaning the kitchen floor so that you don’t have to do it yourself, but they can also deter would-be criminals. According to Aidan J. Cassidy, “They can offer not only companionship but protection against intruders.” If you feel comfortable getting to know your neighbors, do it, and bring the dog with you. That way if they hear a lot of uncharacteristic barking, they’ll know something’s up, too.